Universities urged to reveal where the money goes

Universities are being urged to provide students with detailed breakdowns of how tuition fees and other income gets spent to allay concerns that money is being wasted.

Universities have been urged to reveal their spending in greater detail. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Universities UK (UUK) is calling on higher education institutions to publish “value-for-money statements” about how they spend their income, with universities in England under particular pressure to demonstrate that their degrees are worth the £9,250 annual fees.

A survey earlier this year found that 67 per cent of students in Scotland, 76 per cent in England, 72 per cent in Wales and 73 per cent in Northern Ireland feel that their university does not provide enough information on its spending. To improve transparency, UUK will shortly be publishing guidance recommending that universities put value for money statements in their prospectuses, detailing where they get their income from and how it is spent.

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The guidance says that universities should communicate this information by putting it prominently on their websites, and via poster boards and digital screens on campus.

Speaking at a conference in London yesterday, Jim Dickinson, a higher education expert who works for the Wonkhe website, said that students in Scotland were also interested in value for money even though they do not pay fees.

“Even students in Scotland understand that someone is paying for it,” he said.

Dissatisfaction with value for money typically focuses around students’ perceptions that they are not getting enough contact time with tutors and lecturers.

“The lack of accessible information on university spending has led to a misperception that fees are solely spent on the direct costs of teaching,” the guidance states.

To try to diffuse this, UUK suggests universities should include a narrative in their information to students which describes “how non-teaching spending benefits and adds value for students”.

Professor David Phoenix, vice chancellor of London South Bank University, who helped draw up the guidance, said: “Students and parents rightly want to know how their fees – and other income – is spent by universities, and for this to be presented in a way that is easy to understand, and easy to find.”

Universities are experiencing increased scrutiny over value for money.

In a letter sent to the Office for Students last month, the UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the regulator had his “full backing” to crack down on institutions offering poor value by hitting them with fines and other penalties.